This has been quite a year for screen actresses to make belated stage debuts, but with mixed results. Keeley Hawes chose a relatively minor role at the National, Emma Pierson was superb but in one of the worst plays of this or any other year, and now Thandie Newton bravely tackles the role of a medical student who suffered unspeakable torture in Pinochet's Chile and now confronts the doctor who oversaw the evil process. Although confirming that Ms Newton is one of the most beautiful women in the world I'm afraid she has come a bit of a cropper with this performance. There's no real fear, anger, grief or believable need for retribution and her voice lacks emotional range. However I'm not sure if this is entirely her fault as the much more experienced Tom Goodman-Hill and Anthony Calf are not much better so maybe Jeremy Herrin has inexplicably chosen to portray this story in a way that is drained of almost all the tension. Ariel Dorfman's play did maintain enough interest for me to return after a totally unnecessary interval but it's noticeable that it closed with a highly perfunctory curtain call. Maybe that was influenced by so many negative reviews, a sparse audience, the news that this will close early or perhaps the cast are aware that they are in a production that has badly misfired. Death and the Maiden is a highly appropriate choice for the newly renamed Harold Pinter Theatre but Pinter himself would never have allowed such a limp production of what should be a powerful play. - David Baxter
17 Nov 11
I agree with many of the above. The play is still strong but this production is hampered by Thandie Newton's "cool as a cucumber" performance. You just cannot believe that she has gone through a terrible ordeal.I can think of several excellent actresses - Jodhi May, Eve Best, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sophie Okonedo, Helen McCrory to name a few - who would have been excellent choices. Thandie may be a star name but on the night I went she wasn't pulling in the punters so you might as well hire a top notch actress instead. In spite of this, the men were good specially Tom Goodman Hill and for someone who hadn't seen the brilliant Juliet Stevenson 20 years ago this will still be a gripping play with twists and turns in the plot. - Diane
08 Nov 11
I saw the matinee of DATM yesterday (Saturday 5th November) afternoon. For the first fifteen minutes the play seemed deathly dull, but as soon as Thandie Newton LEFT the stage, and we were in the hands of Anthony Calf, and the always wonderful Tom Goodman-Hill, things picked up and it felt as if we were in a real grown-up theatre. In fact, throughout, when both men were on stage the interest level rose noticeably.
Ms Newton, though vulnerable, comes across as, well, just a bit wet and wishy-washy. I'm inclined to agree with Coveney that you never get the sense that she has suffered at a deep emotional level. It may well be that Ms Newton's performance would have looked fabulous on screen, where every nuance could be picked up in close-up, but on a stage from 50 feet away I'm afraid she didn't match up to the very obvious talent working so well elsewhere on stage.
The production looks great, and is very well lit by Neil Austin, but I'm afraid that the playing of waves breaking on the shore played before the play, and seeming at every opportunity thereafter, and the availability of only one gents toilet (due to the upper circle being closed for the matinee) meant there were inevitable queue's seen usually only outside the ladies! All in all, though, an enjoyable and thoughtful play, and I'm glad we went, but worthy of certainly no more than three stars. - Richard Voyce
06 Nov 11
I went to see this with 3 friends and we all (plus the women I was chatting to in the queue for the ladies) thought Thandie's performance was poor. This is a gut-wrenching play, that should descend to the depths of human misery. I totally agree with the WOS reviewer that at no point does she seem more wronged than as if short-changed in the supermarket. I didn't even see a crocodile tear let alone anything that seemed real. Admittedly it must be one of the most difficult acting roles to take on, but her success in film has clearly made her think she can pull it off, she is a long long way away. The male actors were really excellent though, especially that Tom bloke who was the true star.
To be honest if I'd been on my own I don't think I'd have bothered with the 2nd half except to see how the script goes. It's a good script. You just need some imagination to see how it should have been. - alicia
05 Nov 11
I vividly remember the tension in the theatre and the gasps from the audience when this was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre 20 years ago. Iím not entirely sure why this is so different, but there was about as much tension last night as an average episode of Heartbeat.
Itís not as if the play has become any less relevant. If anything, Ariel Dorfmanís study of torture and the tortured is even more relevant given formerly civilised countries seem to have adopted it post 9/11. Paulina is a victim finding it difficult to return to normality. Her husband has just been appointed to a tribunal set up to hear cases of death and torture (but not torture without death). She becomes convinced her husbandís good samaritan (he brought him home after his car broke down and pays an unexpected visit later that night) was her torturer and seeks revenge. The late night visit now seems completely implausible, but the rest of the story is believable.
Thandie Newton is one reason for the lack of tension. I never really believed in her as a victim. She didnít convey the emotional complexity Juliet Stevenson did 20 years ago (I understand the commercial imperative of star casting, but giving such a complex role to someone with no stage experience?). She wasnít angry enough and her determination for revenge just didnít seem real. Tom Goodman-Hill and Anthony Calf fare better, but the play revolves around Paulina, so if you canít believe in her plight, you canít believe in the story. Then again, maybe Jeremy Herrinís somewhat clinical production is partly to blame? Or maybe weíre all blase about such issues after 10 years of real war, real torture and real tension?
Given the poor Friday evening house, I donít think youíve got long to find out for yourself. - Gareth James
29 Oct 11
I have seen a Wednesday matinee of this. I saw reviews and wasn't expecting much. But what a surprise. Thandie puts in a good and believable performance with strong supporting performances. I was sitting in row P and heard her very clearly. I think the WOS review is very unfair to her performance. I too have seen Stevenson in this role and think Thandie's performance stands up very well next to it. A very engaging 95 minutes. If you like plays then go!! - Theatrelover
26 Oct 11
I saw this many years ago with Juliet Stevenson and have to admit that her performance was much stronger and believable than Thandie Newton though the latter does do a good job in her stage debut. If I had not seen the Stevenson role, then I think i would have thought Thandie's performance even extra good. Nevertheless she was good and her supporting men were excellent. A very gritty story and kept me alert all the way through - Joe Spiteri
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